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Praying in the Spirit: What They’re Saying Now: Some Non-Charismatics Reevaluate Tongues

No doctrine receives more criticism than that which suggests there is yet more for the Christian. Instead of hearing There’s more for me, some Christians translate it into You’re saying that I lack something, that I’m not whole, that you’re better than I am. But thank God for those who hear There’s more for me and reach out in faith and take it. Speaking in tongues as the initial evidence of the baptism in the Holy Spirit is one of those doctrines that suggest there’s more. For that reason it has come under extreme criticism. On the issue of tongues as initial external evidence of the baptism of the Holy Spirit, Dunn writes the following:

In favour of the Pentecostalist thesis it must be said at once that their answer is more soundly rooted within the NT than is often recognized. It is certainly true that Luke regarded the glossolalia of Pentecost as an external sign of the Spirit’s outpouring. In Acts 10.45 ff. ‘speaking in tongues and extolling God’ is depicted as proof positive and sufficient to convince Peter’s Jewish companions that ‘the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles.’ The Ephesian ‘believers’ speak in tongues and prophesy when the Holy Spirit comes upon them (19.6). The only other passage in which an initial giving of the Spirit is actually described is 8.17 ff., and it is obvious that Luke has in mind here an eye-catching display of ecstasy-something more than sufficient to arouse the envy of an accomplished magician. It is a fair assumption that for Luke the Samaritan ‘Pentecost,’ like the first Christian Pentecost, was marked by ecstatic glossolalia. If so, then the fact is that in every case where Luke describes the giving of the Spirit it is accompanied and ‘evidenced’ by glossolalia. The corollary is then not without force that Luke intended to portray ‘speaking in tongues’ as ‘the initial physical evidence’ of the outpouring of the Spirit. (Jesus and the Spirit, pp. 189-190)

Dunn’s examination and ultimate rejection of the charismatic theology of Spirit baptism leads him to the brink of a doctrine of Spirit baptism that is less attractive to him than charismatic theology. Since his examination verified that tongues did indeed accompany Spirit baptism, and since Spirit baptism is, in Dunn’s theology, equivalent to conversion, then spiritual manifestations should accompany conversion (Only by dispensationalizing tongues to primitive Lucan Christianity does Dunn escape the force of his own argument). In this context, Dunn pays a final compliment to charismatic theology:

Accepting that the gift of the Spirit is what makes a man a Christian, how does he and others know if and when he has received that Spirit? In what ways does the Spirit manifest his coming and his presence? What indications are there that the Spirit is active in a congregation or in a situation? Clearly these are questions of first importance at all points of Christian life and activity. And in case it should be thought that I have been less than just to the Pentecostals let me simply add in reference to these questions that Pentecostal teaching on spiritual gifts, including glossolalia, while still unbalanced, is much more soundly based on the NT than is generally recognized. (Baptism in the Holy Spirit, p. 229)

The observable evidences of the baptism in the Holy Spirit—a love for and devotion to the Scriptures, a fervency to proclaim the Gospel, a deeper Christian life, a greater sense of the reality of and preeminence of Jesus Christ, an enduement of power, spiritual invigoration, revitalized churches, and even healed marriages—have overwhelmed many would-be critics of the charismatic renewal (the above listed evidences are taken from non-Pentecostal writers). Although they press for a more balanced and articulate formulation of charismatic theology, these critics concede that it is a movement of God’s Holy Spirit—a movement whose experiences are right out of the New Testament.

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Category: Spirit, Winter 1999

About the Author: Robert W. Graves, M. A. (Literary Studies, Georgia State University), is the co-founder and president of The Foundation for Pentecostal Scholarship, Inc., a non-profit organization supporting Pentecostal scholarship through research grants. He is a Christian educator and a former faculty member of Southwestern Assemblies of God College in Waxahachie, Texas, and Kennesaw State University (adjunct). He edited and contributed to Strangers to Fire: When Tradition Trumps Scripture and is the author of Increasing Your Theological Vocabulary, Praying in the Spirit (1987 and Second Edition, 2017) and The Gospel According to Angels (Chosen Books, 1998).

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